On December 18, 2008, just a week before Christmas, the U.S. Postal Service abruptly suspended its decades-old Operation Santa Claus, a holiday program in which volunteers sift through children’s letters addressed to Santa, “adopt” one or more letters, and then provide gifts to needy children.
The reason for the suspension? A Maryland postal worker recognized a registered sex offender who was participating in the program. Postal Service employees confronted Carl Elmer Ranger, 68, who said he was genuinely trying to do a good deed. Ranger had pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor in 2000.
Postal authorities confiscated the letter, which contained the child’s name and address, and informed the child’s fam-ily of the incident. They then canceled Operation Santa Claus nationwide, including the New York program which receives 500,000 letters a year.
The Postal Service acknowledged that there had never been a problem with the program before. Nonetheless, in 2006, it began requiring participants to fill out a form and provide identification.
Initially no explanation was given to people who appeared at post offices wanting to take part in the program. A sign merely stated that, for the remainder of the holiday, the Santa letters would be handled by postal employees.
The Postal Service later announced that it intends to reinstate the program with changes to ensure the anonymity of the children who write letters. Their names and addresses will be blacked out and the letters assigned a number. Opera-tion Santa Claus participants will give gift-wrapped presents to Postal Service employees instead of delivering them in person, and postal workers will then deliver the gifts.
Unfortunately, removing the personal contact between benefactors and families deprives the program of much of its warmth and appeal. It regresses the program to the 1920s, when Operation Santa Claus first began and postal workers were the only persons involved. Members of the public have participated since the 1940s.
The Postal Service’s panicked response to a possibly nonexistent problem was highly questionable. Program partici-pants have never had unsupervised meetings with the children receiving the gifts, but sex offender paranoia prevailed.
If the Postal Service wanted to exclude registered sex offenders from taking part in the program, it could have added that prohibition to the forms it was already using and checked participants against the sex offender registry, rather than imposing restrictions on everyone. No, Virginia, Operation Santa Claus will never be the same again.
Sources: The News Source, www.reason.com, www.abcnews.go.com
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